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Is 2018 the year to embed more innovative ways of working?

by Alastair Lechler on 06 Feb 2018
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What does 2018 hold in store for you and your organisation? Is innovation on the agenda? What does innovation mean to you? Could artificial intelligence transform your operating model? And is there unlocked potential sitting dormant, waiting to be unlocked, in your workforce?

Certainly, there is potential for fresh approaches, challenges to existing thinking and ways of working, and scope to embrace change. Will you challenge traditional thinking? And how equipped are you and your team to innovate?

At BIE, we have made a clear and decisive step towards supporting organisations going through change. For many, change is defined as reacting to unexpected events, or perhaps a bad quarter of financial results. However, I and my team are finding success in shaping and affecting a more proactive approach to change and innovation. 

This week, our senior associate Calum Macleod discusses six actions to consider when structuring a programme to make your organisation more innovative.

What to consider when structuring your organisation to become more innovative

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The elephant must sometimes feel a little discriminated against in corporate meetings. Sometimes it is being eaten ‘one bite at a time’ and, at other times, it is the invisible entity in the room. Chief Executives will often think of them too, as that feeling of trying to push an elephant into a place it does not want to go, is well understood by many who want their organisation to produce high-value innovative solutions, as a habit.

Outside large organisations, it can seem that the ‘tight-jeaned brigade’ are busy disrupting every area of life. Whilst long-term annuity contracts delivering complex services can provide short and medium-term protection from this disruption, there is still a need for large companies to drive innovation much more rapidly across their organisations. Without proven, new approaches and tools, it will be difficult to grow or even maintain revenue levels especially as acquisition is an expensive answer.

Here are six actions to consider when structuring a programme to make your organisation more innovative:

1. Recognise the strength in organisational ‘inertia’ if it is characterised by strong, reliable and profitable delivery

There is a long list of firms who have thought that radical re-organisation is the way to change their culture. But the strengths of an organisation: its proximity to customers; its strong operational systems; its excellent, focused staff who deliver tirelessly; these are all assets that will be as vital in the future as they are now. And many innovations are developed in the spaces between existing processes or structures and need something to push against so that they can be tested properly and proven in the ‘real-world’. Trying to ‘re-organise for innovation’ may mean that risky ideas are adopted, putting hard-earned relationships and profit at risk.

But there is a different approach...

2. Use the networks within your extended organisation as the platforms for innovation, not your traditional hierarchies

One of the major impacts of the new technology that has arrived in the last 20 years is that peer-to-peer collaboration and communication is now much easier. (Just think of the distant friends on Facebook or LinkedIn who would, eventually, have stopped receiving or sending Christmas cards but whom you are now in touch with regularly, throughout the year). 

Network research and thinking is accelerating and there is a huge, as yet untapped, opportunity for organisations to build upon existing internal networks, expanding to include key personnel in current clients and sub-contractors. Spending some time evaluating and understanding the high-value networks that already exist within your extended organisation at a peer-to-peer level and then consciously growing and investing in them is fundamental to establishing the highest value innovation (these teams will see the gaps invisible to your traditional hierarchy and seek to address them).

3. Start somewhere...

Take one of the more promising network teams created and ask them to generate 10 high-value ideas that would improve customer satisfaction (if you have customers in the network you created, they will keep these ideas real). Ask them to create a set of business cases, at a high-level, with a view on funding needed for 3 months to produce and trial a proof of concept.

Agree the 3-month investment at Board-level (do not try and make the 3-month investment work at individual division level yet - it won’t). Then create the right team to drive forward the selected idea(s) - it needs to have a mix of idea generators, early adopters (people who can take the ideas and pull it together into a workable solution) and practical finance and project management skills. 

4. Evaluate - then either kill the idea or take it the next level

Innovation and rapid adoption do not come easily. Well-structured, rounded dialogue to support the decision to continue to invest is vital. There is likely to be considerable dialogue and further proof points or research required before the next stage of investment is approved. If it is approved then provide enough investment to develop a full product, ready for scaling across the solution.

If the idea is killed recognise the risk-takers anyway, provided they prove they have learned the lessons for the next innovation they will be involved in. They are unlikely to seek investment for an idea again unless they are more confident that it works, next time. Innovations that fail cost money but by following these guidelines, these losses will be a fraction of the return made on the innovations that work.

5. If investment is approved, create a clear process to scale the innovation across the organisation

In parallel to the development of the solution, create a plan to scale the solution across the organisation. This will involve:

  • Understanding the benefits of the solution, translated into relevant metrics and financial implications for the individual divisions implementing;
  • Finding the right people to drive the adoption within each area (typically early adopters);
  • Finding the right people to sponsor the adoption (typically a senior, respected Board member);
  • Valuing the voice but limiting the scope of ‘middle management’ to slow down implementation;
  • Ensuring that the business case for adoption is clear for each division so that the right financial levers and targets can be set within the annual planning cycle to embed the new approach;
  • An implementation ‘grab-bag’ to enable rapid adoption in each division.
Finding the right team of innovators, early adopters and mainstream team members in each division will be critical, especially as it will impact their customers and sub-contractors.

6. Keep going!! This will keep taking the business owners and leaders on the journey

Once this overall innovation process is established there is no reason it, too, cannot be scaled more widely across the organisation with a careful, consistent focus on supporting middle management, in particular, to adapt to the change. As a result of adopting innovation in this way, the culture, competitiveness and growth of your organisation will improve. 

Curious to find out how innovate your organisation's culture is? Click below to access our quick 15 question innovation self-assessment to help you establish how innovative your organisation currently is.

Innovation healthcheck

Topics: Change, Innovation

Alastair Lechler

Written by Alastair Lechler